Between May 2014 to June 2016, I worked with Desmond Tan, owner of the Burma Superstar restaurant group, to create a cookbook that looked at Burmese food through the lens of a San Francisco restaurant.
While I'm used to taking restaurant recipes and shrinking them down to fit the needs of a home kitchen, this project started out differently. For starters, the restaurant didn't have any of its recipes written down--in any kind of form. I also had never worked with a restaurant group in which each location (all three) had entirely different dynamics. If they were all family, they were cousins, not twins. And then there was navigating through all of the different cooks, servers, and managers. On the first day on the job, I showed up at the Oakland location with a notepad and pen. The cooks thought I was the health inspector.
Fortunately, things went smoother after everyone got used to me showing up and asking a lot of questions on how to make everything from the coconut chicken curry to the rainbow salad, a recipe with more than 20 ingredients. But while talking with the cooks in the restaurants was satisfying work, it was the trips I took to Myanmar that really showed me what Burmese hospitality could look like.
In 2015, I traveled to Myanmar, the country formerly known as Burma, twice: once in the dry season, when papaya was everywhere, and once during the monsoon season, where the arid central plains of the country turned lush. Visiting places such as Mt Popa, Bagan, and the tea-growing area Namhsan will stay with me for the rest of my life. So will the incredibly complex history of a country that had been walled off for half a century. When we were working on this book, though, the country was hopeful for the future, running a truly democratic election that gave power to Aung San Suu Kyi's party. Today, it's hard to feel as optimistic while the Rohinga humanitarian crisis in Rakhine State shows no improvement. Still, we wrote this book in the spirit of hope, as well as also a tribute to the blend of Chinese-Burmese dishes that have made Burma Superstar a beloved San Francisco institution. Burma Superstar Publication Date: April 17, 2017, with Ten Speed Press.
For a list of food / eating recommendations in Myanmar, read this post
Listen to our interview on Splendid Table and read about tea leaf salad here
Listen to my conversation with Steve Boss of KRUU here
See me demo how to make a weeknight Burmese-style stir-fry with Kat Sacks of Epicurious here
"Informative recipes and concise historical background set an educational yet approachable tone, while the occasional misty mountain vistas or bustling Burmese city street scenes (captured by John Lee) provide a reason to slow down and consider Burmese culture as a whole. Already, I'm eyeing the classic mohinga, a noodle soup thickened with toasted ground rice and mashed catfish, seasoned with ginger and lemongrass."
—Alex Testere, Saveur
"Back when I was a child, no one could even point to Burma on a map, much less understand my ties to the country and its culture. Even today, I can’t quite explain what makes the food so amazing. My best approximation is by describing it as somewhere between India and Thailand, which makes sense based on the country’s geography. Now I can just recommend this book that features the recipes of the much-beloved San Francisco restaurant Burma Superstar. Reading through the owner’s history is like reliving my own upbringing (we’re both ethnic Chinese by way of Burma) but really, it’s all about the delicious dishes." -—Diana Tsui, The Cut
"The rare restaurant edition you’ll actually want to cook from, starting with the tea-leaf salad."
—"This Season's Best Cookbooks," Bon Appetit
“The eponymous San Francisco restaurant is making quality Burmese food even more accessible than before with this insightful, thorough cookbook. Take mohinga, for example, the breakfast noodle soup you've probably never heard of that's considered Burma's national dish. And in between coconut chicken curry and tea leaf salad, you can read all about Myanmar's struggle for democracy, as well as the people and ingredients that make up this rich culture.”
—"Best New Cookbooks," Tasting Table
“Finally! In this beautiful book, Desmond Tan and Kate Leahy bring one of my favorite Bay Area restaurants, Burma Superstar, to the world. From the Tea Leaf Salad to Chicken Coconut Curry, the book demystifies the ingredients and cooking techniques of Myanmar, opening up the restaurant’s incredible flavors for everyone to enjoy. This is a book to read from cover to cover, and to cook from forever.”
—Amanda Haas, author of The Anti-Inflammation Cookbook: The Delicious Way to Reduce Inflammation and Stay Healthy
"Is Burmese the new Thai food? Plenty of San Franciscans (disciples of the city’s beloved Burma Superstar restaurant) would say yes. The hot spot’s first cookbook illuminates the spicy, savory food of Myanmar, from chili lamb to pork and pumpkin stew to the popular tea leaf salad."
—Rebecca Shapiro, PureWow